This is a picture from MSNBC's "The Week in Pictures" from April 30–May 7. Here's the title and caption in full:
The photographer who took this picture of a bicyclist being upended after hitting a pothole submerged in rainwater in Xiamen, China, is coming under fire. Critics say he was lying in wait to capture an unfortunate incident instead of warning people about the impending danger. The photographer defends himself by arguing that without his pictures, the government would have never noticed the pothole.
What's interesting to me is that this is about the third such picture I've seen, and in each case someone was either writing or commenting about the nefarious photographers who "lay in wait" rather than warn pedestrians.
It's always an interesting premise...what the photographer "should have done" in various scenarios, in the mind of the average viewer. I used to show a picture to my students of a woman falling to her death from a burning building, and class after class would decry the photographer for not "doing something." Never mind that the shot was most probably taken with a telephoto from many meters away (and quite possibly from behind a police line), and the photographer only had seconds to react. He was probably very lucky to get a shot off, never mind running over and...what? Breaking her fall with his body? It's not like you're Superman and you could catch her in your arms, much as you might wish you could.
The question with the bike rider comes down to: if you knew there was a pothole there, would you stay there in the rain to warn everybody who might come along—even if you didn't have a camera? Because if the photographer doesn't have a camera, he would most likely have moved on, and the bicyclist would be no more protected. Conversely, if the photographer should stay there and warn anyone who comes along, then anyone who knows about the pothole is ethically lacking if they also don't stay to warn anyone who might come along. Interesting riddle, like an ethical Möbius strip.
(Thanks to John Camp)
Featured Comment by Lynn_B: "It's good to see some debate about ethics. What photographs like this also reveals are the untested assumptions almost everyone makes about the hidden narrative surrounding a photograph. In this case we don't know if the photographer was aware of the pothole (could have been a grab shot) or even aware of the approaching cyclist. There is an growing tendency in recent times to judge photographers more on untested assumptions and on community fears resulting from media hysteria, than on the evidence. So photographers snapping public landmarks are questioned about terrorism, snapping children are suspect paedophiles, and snapping unfortunate cyclists are suspect sociopaths. The best defence is probably to identify the assumed narrative and challenge it."
Featured [partial] Comment by Mikal W. Grass: "...Just maybe the photographer was not waiting for the cyclist to take a spill, but was merely photographing something that he may not have seen before: a cyclist holding an umbrella while riding a bicycle."
Featured [partial] Comment by David Fultz: "What’s interesting about this is the assumption that the photograph depicts a unique occurrence rather than the unique view of a common occurrence. Hmm."
Featured Comment by JohnL: "And no-one has yet suggested the photographer and cyclist may be working together to get this shot!"
Featured [partial] Comment by Ted Johnson: "The real question is: If a bicyclist falls due to a pothole and no one is around to photograph it, does he/she end up with road rash?"
""I just knew [sic] that the city government has paved the pit, and without my pictures, the pit would not be noticed by the government, and there would perhaps be more people falling over." —Liu Tao (the pictures were allegedly taken in Xiamen City and were apparently first published in the Beijing Youth Daily. —MJ)